Today is a Good Day to Gay: Rob Ford and Toronto Pride

Wow, what a week to be gay! The city that never sleeps is now the city that occasionally sleeps with someone of the same sex – which is totally rad. My wife and I watched the vote being streamed live from our living room, safe in Canada, and still started crying when the result was announced. It seems like all around us the world is edging towards being a happier place for gays and lesbians and other initials in the acronym to be in.

Up here in Canada, where I have held the right to marry whomever I wanted since before I was actually old enough to legally consent to marry, we’re unfortunately slipping backwards a bit. And by “we” I mean Toronto, and by “Toronto” I mean Toronto mayor Rob Ford. This is the big queer news up here right now, but I know that some of my south-of-the-border readers may not know what’s up.

This weekend marks the thirtieth annual Pride in Toronto (it existed in various forms since the early seventies, but was officially incorporated in 1981). It’s a huge event, spreading over ten days and much of the city, beginning with the ceremonial flying of the Pride flag about a week ago and culminating in a huge parade on Sunday. The event is one of the biggest money-makers for the city, bringing over a million visitors to the city every year. Dozens of politicians turn out to show their support for the event. The leaders of the Green Party and the New Democratic Party, two of the four most powerful political parties in the country, marched last year. TV personalities like Rick Mercer make an appearance. The last few mayors of Toronto showed up to the party, with super-soakers in hand.

And then there’s Rob Ford. Elected last year as the Joe Six-pack candidate, who would stop the gravy-train and clean up City Hall, Ford – get this – isn’t showing up. You know, the usual pressing duties of the mayor, trying to run Canada’s largest city, he’s got responsibilities – oh wait, what’s that? He’s going to the cottage. Yes. He is skipping Pride to go to his family’s cottage for the weekend. He hasn’t attended any of the Pride events so far, only saying evasively that he “will see how it goes” and “if he can fit any in”.

Ford was already on the rocks with Toronto’s sizeable queer population. When he was running last year, his history of homophobic remarks came to light, including stating “if you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS, probably.” While in office, he has chipped away at providing aid for STIs and AIDS clinics and programs. He even cut funding to Pride itself, claiming that other events were more deserving of the funds usually allocated to the festival. With that kind of bad blood, it isn’t terribly surprising that he wouldn’t feel welcome at Pride.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect weekend to take the family up to the cottage.

As mayor of a city – as governor of a state, president of a county, prime minister of an empire – Rob Ford, and any elected politician, has a duty to his people. And right now, that duty includes manning up and apologising to the gay community of Toronto for ignoring and insulting them. We didn’t want much. There has been ten full days of events. He has missed all of them. This goes beyond poor scheduling to a studied and concerted slight to the gay community. No mayor has skipped the festivities since the early eighties – has our cultural consciousness slipped that far back on this issue?

Oh man. I don’t usually get political like this. But this just bugs me. He’s making excuses and dancing around his duty. I would accept a no-show at Pride if he would only come out and say that he isn’t going because he felt unwelcome. That’s a different animal all together.

But as it is, we have a mayor who is only serving part of his city – and serving himself.

But the show must go on. As Rob Ford is so fond of saying, family comes first. And this weekend, in Toronto, the queens and the butches are my family. They could have been his too, if he’d do his job.

What do you think of Ford’s decision to kick it at the cottage this weekend? How would your local politicos have handled the situation? Dating advice next time, I promise!

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